What effects might television dramas have on democratic revolution?
Actor Qusai Khouli plays a resident of Damascus's slums in Birth from the Loins / Clacket Productions
I knew I was hooked on Syrian soap operas, or musalselat, the first time I saw "Gazelles in a Forest of Wolves." The 30-episode series, directed by Rasha Sharbatji in 2006, followed the antics of a spoiled, rich megalomaniac named Samir, played by actor Qusai Khouli. Samir's abusive actions toward his university friends go unchecked since his father occupies a high-level position in the Syrian government, which makes people afraid of crossing their abuser. Samir torments friends and enemies alike in the worst possible ways, until the day one of his victims gets fed up. With Samir in the passenger seat of her car, Samir's latest female conquest intentionally drives off the side of Damascus's Mount Qassiyoun, killing herself and leaving Samir disfigured.
The series was a clear condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Syrian upper class and gross abuses of power at a level that the audience could easily relate to and the censors could begrudgingly let pass. When anti-regime demonstrations broke out in Syria in March 2011, I remembered a quote from Samir:
You can have your revolutions, your socialism, and your rights - do whatever it is that you do. But in the end, everything will return to its natural state. It will always hold true: the son of the Pasha remains the son of the Pasha and the son of the maid will remain the son of the maid.
Even though this musalsel premiered in 2006, young Syrians were still talking about it three years later when it was eventually recommended to me. Samir was the prototypical ibn al-masool, or son of an authority figure, a true-to-life cliché many Syrians have come to know and revile through rumors of so-and-so's son's misbehavior. In this scene, Samir is at a nightclub and has his assistant order the DJ to play a better song. A turf war comes to a head between Samir and another club-goer, ending with Samir pulling out his gun and shooting up the nightclub. While this series didn't directly criticize authoritarian governments, it was shocking in its frank treatment of corruption - even if it was at the micro-level.